Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mission Impossible: Deadline Update

During the month of September, I embarked on the most challenging deadline I have ever accepted. So how am I doing? Here's the current scorecard:

42 Nightmares (give or take,) all related in some way to being late (to a class, final exam, flight to New York, or agreed-upon obligation to a now-furious friend. It doesn't take Freud to figure that out, but I've gotten to the point where I can laugh and say, "Enough already! I get it, Subconscious!"

1 Disappointed mother, since I've been forced to delay my visit to the East Coast for an extra month. She understands but can't resist the old guilt nudge (she's a master) at least once per week. I felt bad, too, especially when I found out what the changed ticket was going to cost me, but I wouldn't enjoy myself (and no one would enjoy my company) if I went before the book is finished.

5-12 Put-upon chapter members and blog teammates, as I've begged off other obligations for the times being.

743 dust bunnies, breeding in neglected house. Have resolved to hire someone but haven't yet made time to do so.

33,200 words (and change) of the 55,000 word project due on November 8th. Whew!

For the next month or so, I'll be chugging along like a certain little engine. Only at this point, I know I can! I know I can!

See ya on the downslope! Thanks for any positive thoughts!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A writer of a certain age: Sue Miller talks about living a life that makes great books possible

Great interview with author Sue Miller on Boston University Today today, talking about her books and nudging folks out to her appearance at Metcalf Hall tonight. One thought that should encourage those of you who are out there reading, writing, and waiting. And waiting. And waiting for that breakthrough:
Looking back, did beginning your writing career at 35 make you a more perceptive, confident writer? Could you have written The Good Mother at 25?
I certainly think I knew more about life and about writing when I was 35 than when I was 25—which was when I wrote my first, unpublished and unpublishable, novel. And I think I knew even more about both at 40, when I started writing The Good Mother, than I did at 35, when I wrote a second, not-so-bad-but-not-so-good novel. So while my career might have begun, in some sense, with the writing of The Good Mother, my apprenticeship began much earlier, and it was the combination of that apprenticeship with just having been alive longer that made The Good Mother possible.
Read the rest here.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I ((Heart)) Banned Books Week, starring the Top Ten Banned Books of 2009

From the American Library Association website:
Banned Books Week (BBW) is an annual event celebrating the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. Held during the last week of September, Banned Books Week highlights the benefits of free and open access to information while drawing attention to the harms of censorship by spotlighting actual or attempted bannings of books across the United States.
The Top Ten Banned Books of 2009:
1. TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Lauren Myracle
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs
2. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons: Homosexuality
3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Anti-Family, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide
4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons: Racism, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group
6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
7. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Reasons: Sexism, Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group, Drugs, Suicide, Violence
8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
9. The Color Purple Alice Walker
Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
10. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Reasons: Nudity, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group
I'm a little confused about the harmful effects of nudity in narrative form, but no more than I am confused by people who spend their time and energy trying to ban books. And people who think a realistic, non-threatening portrayal of a functional homosexual couple is somehow worse than war, the Saw movies, on-screen autopsies, and/or Judges 19...which might lend a modicum of perspective to ban-happy homophobes.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Houston friends! Join us for the "Promise Me" event at B&N Champions on Friday!

Meet Nancy Brinker for a celebration and book signing!

Friday October 1 at 7:00 PM
Barnes & Noble Champions
5303 FM 1960 West
Houston, TX 77069

And walk with Nancy and the dynamic volunteers of our Houston affiliate in the Race for the Cure on Saturday, October 2!!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Writing in the Hurting Places

The semester is in full swing at both UHCL and the prison, which is why you haven't heard from me much lately. No matter what I'm teaching, my students never fail to make me laugh, make me cry, and make me think. And sometimes, when I think I'm all caught up, I go to my email and find sudden little gems like this:
Have you ever used your really personal experiences in your art? And if so, how did you get through it? The piece I'm working on now has me absolutely scared out of my wits.
My first response, before writing back, was to feel an immediate connection to the writer, a female student in her early 20s. My second response, as I started typing, was this:
The short answer is yes. The long answer, I'll have to chew on. I may write a blog post on it, because it's definitely food for thought. Something else I'd say is that you'd have to write through that fear. Either that, or wait until you've processed the experience more and then come back to it with a little more distance. That said, almost all of my writing has dealt, to some degree, with traumatic experience. The main thing to keep in mind is that if you are ready to work in the place that is raw, the work can be a powerful experience. It will transform you and others.
My third response, via this blog, is that if you're ready to write in those painful places, that you have to be, as Natalie Goldberg says in Wild Mind, "willing to break open." If you're not ready for that yet, then perhaps you need to have more distance, or you need to write your own story first, before transforming it or fictionalizing it.

Consider Alice Sebold's experience with The Lovely Bones and Lucky. She started working on The Lovely Bones, but had to write Lucky first to get her own experience out of the way before she could do justice to Susie Salmon's. She, like most of us, had something she had to process before she could open her ears and listen fully to another character. And yet so much of Sebold's own rape experience resonates through Susie's. There's a strong connection there, and I don't think that powerful, influential novel could have been written by anyone else.

It's been like that for me, too. When I was 11, I was sexually assaulted, and, for a long time, my work was about sexual abuse in some way. Eventually, I grew past that, and although my current novel is also about abuse, it's a lot further from my own experience than my first short stories were or my most recent full-length play. Although based on harrowing medical narratives and psychiatric case studies, the story itself is not my own. It's a good thing. I don't think I could write this if I'd actually gone through it. But I also don't think I could write it if I hadn't gone through what I went through, and experienced the same common feelings of powerlessness. I know what it's like to be afraid for my life and to have that fear go completely unrecognized. I know what it's like to suffer at the hands of an abuser and not be able to talk about it. And those are the common emotions I draw on when I write my fiction, even though it means I'm constantly "breaking open." But what I've realized, just this week, is that a thing of beauty can come from a place of horror, and that fear and anger can give birth to joy.
My heart goes out to this student. I know she's hurting. I know she's afraid. But I hope that in the hurting places, she can go deep and find something that transcends--herself, her experience, her art.

Sunday Groove: Neko Case "Maybe Sparrow"

Apply to your individual situation as needed.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Two Thrillers for the Price of...Free!

Hi, all,
First of all, thanks to all of you who help spread the word about the free download of my RITA-nominated romantic suspense TRIPLE EXPOSURE for Kindle. The book landed at #1 on both the free and paid (once the promotion ended) bestseller lists, and I couldn't be more thrilled!

I've been so swamped with deadlines lately, I've been missing blog dates left and right, so I'm trying to make up for in with a very special contest over at eHarlequin, where I'll be celebrating special book buddies by giving away two identical signed copies of any one title from my backlist, one for the lucky commenter, and a second to share and discuss with a friend.

If you'd like to enter or just say hi, please drop by the e-Harlequin blog for your chance to win!


Friday, September 24, 2010

People of the Book

This morning, I was reading this moving post by a co-worker of the recently-departed bookseller David Thompson of Murder by the Book, who shares how David's death has taught him to take pride in the career he was once embarrassed to bring up at cocktail parties. "Just a bookseller," he called it.

Just a bookseller? No way, says this author and lifelong reader, remembering so many wonderful conversations and fabulous recommendations from extraordinary booksellers I have met over the years. Like the librarian who turns a child onto the perfect "gateway" horse story, the grade school teacher who smiles and nods when his students beg him to read "just a few more pages" from a chapter book they're sharing, the mothers and fathers who cuddle their toddlers and read Goodnight Moon for the hundredth time, these are the people who induct us into the tribe of readers, who take us by the hand and introduce us to the miracle of story, with its magical power to carry us away and allow us to live richer lives experienced through so many fascinating characters.

This Friday, I am so thankful to all the people of the book. Not only the authors, illustrators, editors, agents, publicists, and so many others employed in their creation, sales, and distribution but those who share a story just because it touched them. Those who share a gift that can forever wrap its arms around us and carry us away from stress and loneliness and worry, carry us beyond our singular existence and make us into missionaries for the books we love as well.

Who do you remember turning you on to great stories? Tell us about the teachers, the booksellers, the librarians, mothers, and so many others who kindled your passion for the written word. We would love to hear from you.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Buy This Book: The Four Things That Matter Most by Ira Byock

I'm heading for Austin today to interview Dr. Ira Byock for an upcoming article in Prevention Magazine. A good omen: just before the editors contacted me about doing the article, I'd downloaded The Four Things That Matter Most: A Book About Living on my Kindle. When I spoke to Ira on the phone yesterday to set up logistics, I was glad to find that the warmth and wisdom in this book was completely present in his voice. He's a fascinating person doing controversial but incredibly important work in the field of palliative care and end of life issues.

From the flap:
Four simple phrases -- "Please forgive me," "I forgive you," "Thank you," and "I love you" -- carry enormous power. In many ways, they contain the most powerful words in our language. These four phrases provide us with a clear path to emotional wellness; they guide us through the thickets of interpersonal difficulties to a conscious way of living that is full of integrity and grace...

The inspiring stories in The Four Things That Matter Most demonstrate the usefulness of the Four Things in a wide range of life situations. They also show that a degree of emotional healing is always possible and that we can experience a sense of wholeness even in the wake of family strife, personal tragedy, divorce, or in the face of death. With practical wisdom and spiritual punch, The Four Things That Matter Most gives us the language and guidance to honor and experience what really matters most in our lives every day.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Promise Me" hits the NYT bestseller list with a big pink sledgehammer!

Just heard that Promise Me will debut in the top 10 on the NYT list next week. And we scored a terrific review in the LA Times: "Brinker's candid memoir weaves in tales of a loving family with her triumphant push to deliver a deathbed vow made to her sister, Suzy Komen. It's quite a story, told by quite a character."

I'm pretty much doing this today:

Congratulations and love to the fabulous Nancy G. Brinker! It was a privilege to be your book sherpa. Houston peeps! Don't miss the celebration and signing Friday, October 1, 7:00 PM at Barnes & Noble Champions!

From "The Figure of the Youth as a Virile Poet" by Wallace Stevens

"...when we look at the blue sky for the first time, that is to say: not merely see it, but look at it and experience it and for the first time have a sense that we live in the center of a physical poetry, a geography that would be intolerable except for the non-geography that exists there--few people realize that they are looking at the world of their own thoughts and the world of their own feelings."

(Brought to my attention by my bookish daughter and shared in celebration of driving around with the top down today.)

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

And at the end, he should have decked him . . .

So funny, it's almost painful.

3 Qs for Benjamin Percy, author of "The Wilding"

As promised, Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding stops by for a quick 3Qs.

First, Benjamin, how are you? The debut novel head trip has its ups and downs, but the book is getting fantastic reviews, and that's got to help. Does it feel pretty fierce to be Benjamin Percy right now?
I'm kind of twitchy right now. I've been pacing around, chewing on my hand, hitting the gym and throwing around weights, my body all tangled up with hope and dread and excitement and nervousness. I'm of course deeply grateful for the positive reviews. This is a book I spent years building -- hidden away in my office -- and now it's out the door , out there in the world, and to discover that it's been positively received means the world. I can't wait to get out to the bookstores and festivals, shoot the bull with people about the novel.

Antonya Nelson so perfectly describes this novel as a "tour de force meditation and treatise on the nature of violence, the violence of nature, man in the wild, and the wild in man-cleverly disguised as a page-turning adventure." Which unfolded first as the novel took shape in your head, the powerful theme or the ass-kicking storyline?
I never begin with a theme in mind. Instead it's images, characters, voices -- that's what draws me into the mist. With short fiction, sometimes I don't know what the story is ABOUT for days. With a novel, it takes much longer. Months. Which is a good thing. Because if a writer begins a story thinking, "This is going to be about how awful/good gun control is," then the narrative will feel hollow and manipulative, the characters like puppets with an after school special agenda. That might be the way an editorial is written -- but not fiction. It's much more organic, a process that begins with instinct and ends with thoughtfulness. The short answer: ass-kicking storyline.

Justin Caves is one of those characters we alternately want to go to war with, buy a beer for, and smack upside the head. Tell me the one thing you really hope readers will get about this character.
I wanted him to be complicated, emotionally knotty. I wanted the reader to feel uncertain about him. And by the end, the guy you thought was the hero turns out to be something of a villain.

Bonus Q, if I may: What are you reading?
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall, my friend and former teacher.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Words and Movement--Let's Move!

Friends in the Houston area, feel like making your words dance?
The date is rapidly approaching for my wonderful workshop with Nia Moves' Helen Terry, and I'd be so delighted to see you at Studio Nia Moves in the Houston Heights (508 Pecore) on Saturday, October 9, from Noon-2pm.  Please consider coming--this is a rare workshop you won't want to miss!

Our relaxing, inspiring afternoon, called Writing With Your Body, Dancing With Your Words will combine wonderful, accessible movement and stretching that ANYONE can do with breathing, chant, and sense-and-memory writing.  My goal and Helen's is to create an experience that will warm your soul from the inside out, while building confidence in your body and inner spirit.  You do not need ANY prior movement experience to be comfortable in and motivated by this joyous afternoon.  Helen will be drawing on her many years as an outstanding teacher of Nia, and I will be drawing on my work as a novelist, teacher, and (as some of you know) a former dancer.

Writing With Your Body, Dancing With Your Words is a dream come true for me, friends--a chance to combine my two great passions.  I'd love to share it with you.

For more information, or to register, click here and then on "Special Events."  You can also call 713-864-4260 or simply show up at the door.  The workshop's cost is $40 for pre-registration, $50 on the day.

Come, and feel how marvelous you are!


Buy This Book: The Wilding by Benjamin Percy

Had to grab Benjamin Percy's novel when I saw this quote from one of my favorite authors, Pam Houston:
“Not your father's eco-novel. In compelling, image-driven prose, Benjamin Percy confounds the old polarities about wilderness and development by sending three generations of men into a doomed canyon, and letting so much hell break loose we can't tell the heroes from the villains-which feels exactly right. This is a dark, sly, honest, pleasing, slip-under-your-skin-and-stay-there kind of a book.”
The starred review in PW chimes in:
"Percy's excellent debut novel (after the collection Refresh, Refresh) digs into the ambiguous American attitude toward nature as it oscillates between Thoreau's romantic appreciation and sheer gothic horror. The plot...will keep readers rapt as peril descends and split-second decisions come to have lifelong repercussions."
How was I supposed to resist? And I'm glad I didn't. The Wilding is like Edward Abbey meets Stephen King. The characters are infuriating, scary, complex, full-fleshed. The plot defies synopsis, but it twists around an ill-fated hunting trip undertaken by a high school English teacher, Justin Caves, along with his middle-schooler son and embittered old tyrant father. Things rapidly go uncool, and what ensues is a horror movie waiting to happen. Buy, read, and prepare to Never. Go Camping. Again.

Tune in tomorrow. Benjamin Percy stops by to answer 3Qs about the writing life and this terrific debut novel.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday night non sequitur: Holy hand jive!

Good art needs no clever tie-in.

Sunday Morning Blood:Night of the Living Trekkies!

Quirk Books, famous for its mashup fiction, such as the uber-selling Pride and Prejudice & Zombies, has a new one. Yes, it's Night of the Living Trekkies and since we have a few (maybe more) recovering (does one ever truly recover?) Trekkies on this blog, I thought I'd post this hilarious trailer this morning!

Warning: If extreme zombie carnage (even the tongue in cheek kind) freaks you out) you may now return to your Wheaties!

Also, for your viewing pleasure, the pulp-a-licious cover! Love this!

Thanks to Suzan Harden for bringing this trailer to my attention!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Buy This Book: Patti Lupone: A Memoir

I've been dying for this book to come out. I was actually up for the job last year, but I spent some time with Patti, and we liked each other a lot, but we both knew immediately it wasn't going to be a working love connection. I haven't had a chance to read the book yet, since I was slammed with a book release of my own this week, but she's a great, great lady, and Digby Diehl is a terrific writer, so I'm eager and optimistic. (Even as I hope my book stomps hers into the ground. Sorry, Patti. That's show biz.)

As a teenage theatre major, I worshiped Patti Lupone. The night she scored the Tony for Evita, she wore a tux to the awards show, and I was so dazzled, I hied myself to the Salvation Army and purchased a tux the very next day. Wore it to every art party for the rest of the year. Patti laughed when I told her this.

"Of course, I was going to wear a gorgeous dress," she told me, "but when it arrived that day, it didn't fit, so I wore the tux I'd been wearing for my cabaret act."

That's a huge component of any career in the arts. No matter what everyone else is doing or what preconceived notions you had about how it was going to be, you've got to go with what fits and make the moment your own.

Here's the fabulous Patti Lupone, storytelling as only Patti Lupone can and singing "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Miz. As only Patti Lupone can. Susan Boyle, eat your heart out.

Friday, September 17, 2010

For the :( Files: Oprah picks...urg, I can't even say it.

Well, according to PW, it's Officially Official. Oprah's new book club selection is Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, the guy who insulted her and pretty much all women readers by voicing his disdain when she picked his novel The Corrections. So apparently, Franzen is completely accurate in his portrayal of all women as doormats who worship dull, passive-aggressive men for their obvious intellectual superiority. My failure to become an alcoholic doesn't fit in with his brilliantly incisive view of suburban moms, so I'm headed for Specks right now, hoping for a sale on limoncello. Would someone please hit me in the face with a shovel? I promise I'll still love you.

In case you missed it, reprising Ron Charles' video review of Freedom.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Plug of the Day . . . for a Truly Amazing Retreat

Dear friends, thanks for indulging me as I share some lovely news.  I am launching a beautiful writing retreatin southern Utah called River of Words.  It's the fruit of many months of work and preparation, and was born from a simple concept: that it would be absolutely wonderful to create a truly extraordinary retreat for writers that is part workshop, part luxury spa vacation, part get-back-to-the-earth and ALL get-back-to-yourself.  I hope you'll drop by the retreat's website for more details.  It would be wonderufl to see you here.  For now, here's a bit from the site itself:

With The River of Words Retreat, I am for the first time, my friends, sharing my beautiful corner of the world with you.  For the last decade, glorious Moab, Utah is where I have come to write my books, seek inspiration, and marvel at the wonders of the High Desert.  I'd love for you to join me for this unique, three-day writing workshop at the luxurious Sorrel River Ranch, where together we'll unleash the creative power of our experiences, tap into the rich resources of our lives and expand our ability to see the world, and to write what we see in it. Whether you long for time to journal more deeply, to work on a memoir or family history, or to tell the story that's been waiting locked inside you, River of Words will help you release your creative power.  Nestled in luxury along the Colorado River in the ideal weather of a desert spring, we'll write together, make time for solitude and quiet reflection, take walks along the water's edge and under the spires of the canyons, and create space for our souls to breathe and be.

Dates: May 12-16, 2011

The retreat package includes:

*Shuttle transport from the Grand Junction, Colorado airport and to all of our destinations for the weekend;

*A luxurious mountain or river view room for four nights;

*Continental breakfast each morning;

*Three days (ten hours) of morning or early afternoon workshops;

*Optional evening readings for those who wish to share more of their work

*Plenty of free time to write and to enjoy the Ranch's spa, wellness and outdoor amenities;

*Workshop lunch on Friday and box lunch on Saturday;

*A guided walk of spectacular Fisher Towers;

*A guided driving tour of Arches National Park;

*A River Deck Dinner on Sunday to celebrate the close of our time together and the shared gift of our creative journey;

*Shuttle return to Grand Junction, Colorado airport.

Please note that space is limited to 12 guests for this retreat; early reservation is highly recommended.  Inclusive prices (including all taxes and gratuities) begin at $1600 for a shared mountain view room; wonderful options (Morning Yoga By the River, Massage By the River) can be added at your request.

Contact me for registration information, a full agenda/schedule, and more details about this truly spectacular place.  And please feel free to share this news with a writing partner or friend.  We will be gathering as a community of kindred octopi warriors, along the river.

May we meet soon for an unforgettable, beautiful experience!


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mystery Plays the Blues:On Bookseller David Thompson's Passing

Yesterday, I received the tragic news about the untimely sudden death of David Thompson, of Houston's Murder by the Book. At only 38 and recently married to MBTB's McKenna Jordan, he filled a unique place at the hearts of both the Houston book community and the national mystery community.

I want to say so much more about his gift of recommending the perfect book (his last one to me was the outstanding The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley), his warm welcome to both new and established authors, and his absolutely boundless enthusiasm for the written word. Like so many other authors, I've always looked forward to my signings at the store, in part because of the camaraderie among its staff and customers - the way all of them, David and McKenna in particular, made it homey and charming and everything an independent bookstore -- any bookstore -- ought to be.

Right now, however I find myself at such a loss, choked up by one attempt after another, so I will merely offer my condolences to David's family, co-workers, and the community of authors and readers who adored him. Sometimes, it seems, words just aren't enough.

See the Houston Chronicle's obituary here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Beautiful Jewel of a Gift for the Reader

THE QUICKENING, Michelle Hoover’s fiercely rendered, Depression-era, debut novel is a treasure on every level. The title is so well chosen in its promise of volatility; its suggestion of things both perilous and miraculous; some kind of upheaval, the possibility of ruin. In the case of Enidina Current and Mary Morrow, the true peril that binds them is found in their silences, the things they don’t say, but only feel and think about one another. The women have little in common despite shared lives on neighboring hardscrabble farms in the upper Midwest. They’re forced together more through isolation than anything else and have little understanding of one another. Enidina isn’t beautiful; she’s big and works as hard as her husband Frank. Mary is fine-boned, delicate and lovely and harbors an awful secret. The women’s reliance on one other is borne of necessity and the drive for self-preservation, but the delicate balance of friendship they manage to achieve is riddled with threat from the elements and from government regulations and from the power of their own desires and emotions. In THE QUICKENING Hoover has created an entire world that is evocative and compelling and hard to leave behind. The novel shares a sensibility with Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres in both setting and mood, the complexity of character and the lovely flow of its language. It’s an absolutely riveting read and I highly recommend it.

"That book sure gets around!" (Totally delightful trailer for "Changing Shoes" by Tina Sloan)

Tina Sloan's Changing Shoes: Getting Older--Not Old--with Style, Humor, and Grace launches this week from Gotham.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Debut Author Angi Morgan's Path to Publication

I love hearing first sale stories, and freshly-minted author Angi Morgan, whose debut, Hill Country Holdup, releases Sept 14th from Harlequin Intrigue has one that's especially inspiring.

BtO: Hi, Angi, and welcome to Boxing the Octopus. When I first met you at the RWA national conference in Orlando in July, you had a smile that could be measured in megawatts - and no wonder, since you were a Golden Heart finalist whose manuscript had already sold and was scheduled for release. (For those who are unfamiliar, the Golden Heart is romance's most prestigious award for unpublished authors, given at the annual GH/RITA ceremony at the Romance Writers of America national convention. In terms of hoopla, it's the genre's Academy Awards event.)

So which came first, the contest final or the sale, and did one lead to the other? Did you have an agent to help you seal the deal?

AM: It’s a bit of a rollercoaster ride, but I’ll keep it brief... Signed with my agent on Oct 1st; won the chapter GH drawing (they pay for you to enter) on Oct 17th; waited until the last minute to enter the GH on Nov 9th; got THE CALL on Nov 12th; tried to withdraw (but it was confirmed I was eligible); signed a contract on Dec 1st; submitted the book, finished edits and proofs by Feb; then received notification that See Jane Run (now HCH) was a finalist in the GH at the end of March. And to make the rollercoaster ride just a bit more exciting, we sold .38 Caliber Cover-Up on May 28th.

I did have an agent, but I sent SJR to both the editor and agent after winning the Daphne du Maurier contest in 2009. My agent is directly responsible for the second sale and its early release date in February 2011.

BtO: How long had you been writing before this all unfolded? And what were some steps that aided your development as a writer?

AM: I’ve been reading and writing romance since Junior High. I joined RWA in 99, got involved in 2000. Through RWA I’ve met critique partners, utilized workshops, learned the craft of writing, volunteered, networked, made tons of contacts... But in 2009, I knew it was MY year. The kids were out of the house, I concentrated on me, my writing, and getting published. I was positive I would sell. I worked hard to get my manuscript in front of the right editor who loved it!

BtO: Love that winning attitude. And you’re right — sometimes it’s as if some internal switch is flipped, and we really do know.

Please tell us a little about your Sept. 14th debut, HILL COUNTRY HOLDUP, along with what's next for you.

AM: Oh, the back cover blurb is so much more exciting. LOL I like to say that HCH is a non-stop, action-packed, edge-of-your-seat heart-twister. It’s a fast read about a mother forced to commit a crime in order to save her son and the only man she can turn to that can help. A missing child. A mother on the run. And the man who saves them both.

BtO: Sounds like my kind of book, and I loved the excerpt from the buying page on Amazon! (See above link.) You've already got me hooked.

AM: I’m running a SNAP THE COVER contest. Details on my website: Take a picture of yourself next to my store book display, send it to me and sign up for my newsletter. I’ll draw for prizes, but also display the pictures on my website.

Thanks so much, Angi, for stopping by BtO today. We wish you all the best with your first release and many more to come and encourage all of our readers to support a debut author by picking up a copy of HILL COUNTRY HOLDUP locally or online through our buying link!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

If only writers were celebrated like football teams . . .

I'm not a huge fan of college football, or really of any football, but I had to interrupt my Saturday writing session to wipe off tears of pride when I heard that my alma mater, James Madison University, had beaten #13 Virginia Tech, in what is definitely the biggest moment in JMU sports history. To put it in perspective: JMU is a smallish school, Tech was a 32.5 point favorite, and the win apparently could call into question both Boise State and VA Tech's title chances. It also helps that Tech and Madison are only a little over an hour's drive apart, and that for years Tech has bragged that they would never be defeated by a school "the likes of William and Mary." What it all adds up to is a humbling loss for Tech and the beginning of a new era for Madison, who is trying to become known as a major national player academically rather than the regional liberal arts school it was when I was there.

Plus, beating Tech is just fun--as this video attests. Catch some of the enthusiasm and ride the purple wave into your writing week. Now I'm going to dry the tears and get back to work. ;)

Sunday Morning Groove: "Hey Soul Sister" and thinky thoughts on the vagaries of publishing

Yesterday, I smiled at Scott D. Parker's post on Do Some Damage. (Blog updates in the Author section of our FeedMe bar.) In The Anatomy of a Hit, he pondered the popularity of the song "Hey Soul Sister" and compared it to the unknowable chemistry of the publishing industry:
Why did Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code strike such a magnificent chord where Angels and Demons (before) and The Lost Symbol (after) didn't? Why did John Grisham's The Firm take off and carve out a new sub-genre (Scott Turow aside)? Ditto for the Twilight Saga. Is it the vicissitudes of the buying public? Is it timing?
Most of the time, I can only shake my head, thinking A) hand of God or B) deal with Satan. But if there was a formula for success, if any of the people who pretend to have it figured out actually could figure it out, if the bat-s#*t industry climate became predictable and rote, I think a lot of energy would bleed out of the art. The high risks and rewards of the writing life in combination with the vagaries of the publishing biz leave only one prudent way forward: To thine own self be true.

Go with the groove and have a lovely Sunday.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

From the Onion archives: "God Angrily Clarifies 'Don't Kill' Rule"

The best, most profound comment on 9/11 (for my taste) was this Onion article from September 2001:
NEW YORK—Responding to recent events on Earth, God, the omniscient creator-deity worshipped by billions of followers of various faiths for more than 6,000 years, angrily clarified His longtime stance against humans killing each other Monday.

"Look, I don't know, maybe I haven't made myself completely clear, so for the record, here it is again," said the Lord, His divine face betraying visible emotion during a press conference near the site of the fallen Twin Towers. "Somehow, people keep coming up with the idea that I want them to kill their neighbor. Well, I don't. And to be honest, I'm really getting sick and tired of it. Get it straight. Not only do I not want anybody to kill anyone, but I specifically commanded you not to, in really simple terms that anybody ought to be able to understand."
Read the rest here. And God bless us every one.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Parting The Veil

Friends, happy #NFF! (Oh dear, I think I've been on Twitter too much.  I just made Non-Fiction Friday up.  But it sounds nice.)

Warmest thanks for checking out my piece in Her Circle Ezine today, describing this fictionist's evolving relationship (and growing love) for non-fiction.  Her Circle, if you're not familiar with it, is a fine zine focusing on art, politics and social issues from a woman's perspective.  Here's an excerpt from "Parting the Veil":

"The difference between fiction and non-fiction is often slight—often no more than the angle from which you see the stage—but as a form of presentation, as a stance taken in front of an audience, it’s profound. This is me talking now. I know many writers who move with great fluidity and grace back and forth between these genres (and others), and I may yet become one of them.  The tools I use in these different forms of writing are very much the same—that is, the words seem to pile up in the same way—but I’m liking right now the way non-fiction fits to my hand. There’s always something to be said for a new angle. It makes you see the tools all over again. Learn them all over. Feel them fresh and clumsy and wet. See, the trouble is, once you leave school, no one is around to make you do things you don’t know how to do. You can spend years gripping a pen in exactly the same way. Until the day someone comes to you and says, Tell me about the death of your father." 

In fairness, let's not overlook Ron Charles' hilarious beat-down of Jonathan Franzen's "Freedom"

Even funnier than the Gruen beat-down, without the guilt, because...well, you know. It's Franzen.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

What are you really advertising? (Brutally concise query advice from lit agent Janet Reid)

I saw a comment complaining about how bitchy the Query Shark is, so I popped over for a look and found a laser-accurate (if merciless) post that begins thusly:
"I am the author of (redacted), published by Publish America."

And that's where I stop reading. If you've had a book printed by any of these template houses that profess to publish but in fact do not offer any of the additional value of a publisher, for the love of Mike, don't mention it. Ever. This is not a publishing credential. It's also a huge disadvantage. Once you've published a book, you're no longer a debut author. It's MUCH easier to sell a debut novel than a second or third from a writer who hasn't enjoyed robust sales.
At the end of her post, Janet cautions aspiring authors against groveling. You may think you're being modest or respectful, but in fact, the message you're sending is that you don't respect your work enough to champion it in the marketplace.

Sixteen years ago, I got some equally straight-shooting advice from an unexpectedly candid collection agency thug who'd called to shake me down for a hospital bill. Drowning in the expenses and lost income from my cancer treatment, Gary and I had turned to Consumer Credit Counseling Service, who advertised that they could make arrangements with our creditors and help us avoid bankruptcy. When I told ThickNeck that we hoped our enrolling in the program would send a message that we were nice, responsible folks, he actually laughed out loud.

"The message you're sending," he said, "is that you need a babysitter to pay your bills for you. At this rate, it'll be twenty years before you get out from under the medical debts. Declare bankruptcy. Send the message that you got wiped out by a lousy situation that wasn't your fault. You'll be able to get a mortgage in two years." (Two years after our subsequent bankruptcy, I asked the the loan officer handling our mortgage if this was true, and sure enough, it was.)

When people invite me to speak for free because "it would be great exposure," I have to remind myself that I don't want to be exposed as someone who works for free. Same goes for people asking me to write proposals "on spec" or for a fraction of my asking fee because they have lots of big time friends and would pass my name around. The last thing I need is to advertise myself -- in any crowd -- as Bargain Bin Betty. On the flip side, I'm preparing to shop a proposal I've been working on for three years without being paid a dime. When I meet with editors in New York next week, I hope they'll see that as a sign of my unreserved passion for this project. And I think they will, because I'm known as a person who doesn't just give my work away.

I don't cut my rates for the same reason I don't miss deadlines or get drunk at publishing parties or show up for meetings in my jammy pants: I worked hard to establish a solid professional rep. I work even harder to maintain it.

So there's some straight talk for you. If you can take a little more, click here to read the rest of Janet's excellent advice.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Ron Charles' hilarious (but not kind) review of Sara Gruen's "Ape House"

I wanted to hate Ron Charles' video review of Ape House, because I love Sara Gruen. Alas, our totally hip video book reviewer was just too funny.

I have to say here, I read the sample on Kindle last night and bought the book. I thought it was terrific, and if you read Water for Elephants, you know what a fabulous writer she is. Ron's saying it falls apart halfway through, and he blames the editor, but I'm going to give this book the benefit of the doubt. If I end up hating it, I'll keep that to myself, but if I love it, I'll shout it wherever I can. Gruen's going to need all the help she can get overcoming this harsh (but virally funny) review.

Cult Classic or Bestseller?

Once upon a time, a story found a writer, an aspiring novelist who fell in love with its premise and the characters, who knew (and cared) very little about that amorphous sea of soul-suckage called "The Market," who wanted nothing except to act as a midwife to the story so it could come into the world.

Okay, so she did dip a toe or two into that ocean this time (recalling past, unsuccessful attempts) and this time her efforts bore sweet fruit. More books followed, and though the audience was small ("niche," her agent called it) it was devoted, and the writer, now an author, went on building stories, her heart brimming with the knowledge that if she only worked harder and crafted with more loving care, her little band of readers would grow and grow.

Not so, said the buyers for the accounts, that powerful band that rules bookstore (and even Wal-Mart's) shelf space. A tiny audience, however devoted, was definitely at odds with the "mass" part of mass market publication.

And the writer wept.

But in time, the stories clamoring in her head pushed her out of her funk. She remembered she was, first and foremost, a storyteller, not an author of XY Genre set in Xth century Wherever. So she started looking for other places she loved. Places where the readers ran broader and deeper than that first sweet rivulet.

And then she hoisted the sails of her imagination and cast off into the world to find them.

As you set sail this week, ask yourself, are you crafting your vessel (and building your craft) for the small pond, or are you a great shipworks, laboring over a mighty ocean liner that will sail the seven seas and weather every storm? There are advantages to each, I think, and the stories read by two or five thousand can be every bit as worthy, perhaps moreso, than those gobbled up by half a million. But going where the readers are can be a conscious choice.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Buy This Book: Room by Emma Donoghue

Okay, this may be a premature recommendation because I haven't actually read it yet, but I think it's a safe bet. I love Emma Donoghue's writing in general, and her forthcoming novel is getting ridiculous buzz, including a spot on the Man Booker short list. Anita Shreve says, "I loved Room. Such incredible imagination, and dazzling use of language. And with all this, an entirely credible, endearing little boy. It's unlike anything I've ever read before." According to PW, it's "powerful...breathtaking suspense..."

I'd definitely nominate it for Most Chilling High Concept Ever:
Jack is five.
He lives in a single room with his Ma.
The room is locked.
Neither Jack nor Ma have a key.
As nightly visits and other creepy behavior from their captor, "Old Nick", become increasingly scary, Ma plans a daring escape into the terrifying reality of an outside world Jack has never seen.

Kindle poised for download!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Write like you're rockin' a sweet mullet: business in the front, party in the back.

When I signed with my second literary agent back in 2002, he asked me the magic question: "What do you want to do?"

I chattered a bit about money, book deals, steady employment and making a good living as a writer (a distant dream for me at the time), but he shook his head and said, "Obviously, you need money. Everybody does. But that's what you want to get, and there are much easier ways to get it. What do you want to do?"

I realized I'd known the answer since I was a little kid. "I want to tell stories."

"Okay," my agent said. "Let's talk about a five-year plan."

As our strategy for world domination unfolded, it included magazine articles, a syndicated newspaper column, book length fiction, and (unexpectedly) ghostwriting. Over the years, my career has evolved. At times I thrived, other times I barely survived. I seriously stepped up my professional side, worked harder and smarter, and reaped financial rewards far beyond the goals I set when making money seemed like a goal worth setting. The agent and I eventually went our separate ways, but that guiding principle (and the excellent habit of maintaining a fluid five-year plan) stayed with me. It's a litmus test that helps me budget my time and energy. I've always kept the underlying theme of storytelling, because that's the thing that gives me joy.

In Do What You Love; the Money Will Follow, Marsha Sinetar says: "Any talent that we are born with eventually surfaces as a need."

That line slapped me in the head. It's not only what you want to do, it's what you need to do. And the rewards of doing it are entirely available to you once you know what it is. If you want to make a career in the arts, work and joy can't be mutually exclusive. You've got to rock it like a sweet mullet: business in the front, party in the back.

So what do you want? If the answer is "money", go get a real job. If the answer is "I don't know", don't be surprised that you're not getting it.

Cue the Bangles.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Freebie Alert! Triple Exposure for Kindle

Psst! My romantic thriller TRIPLE EXPOSURE is for a limited time FREE on Kindle (and their #1 free download!)

If you don't own a Kindle reader, you can download it to your PC, iPad, or smartphone. And in case you need more encouragement than FREE, here's the PW Review for the book, which was a 2009 RITA nominee for Best Romantic Suspenese:

Thompson (The Salt Maiden) packs this well-paced thriller full of twists and the local color of a small Texas town. Photographer Rachel Copeland has been formally acquitted of the murder of Kyle Underwood, a young man who stalked her, but she remains disgraced in her adopted Philadelphia community, where many still believe she seduced and killed him. Rumors and harassment follow Rachel as she flees to her hometown of Marfa, Texas, where she butts heads with her stepmother, Patsy, and other locals. One of the few people willing to support Rachel is Zeke Pike, a woodcarver with a secret of his own, and they soon wrestle with romantic feelings for each other as mysterious stalkers threaten and try to separate them. Thompson's supporting characters and their tensions are believable, especially Patsy with her multilayered jealousy and unhappiness. The red herrings are exquisitely placed, and the climax will surprise even the most jaded of suspense readers. (Aug.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Finding Your Story's Core Vision

Up to my eyeteeth in a pair of projects that come with a pair of seriously-daunting deadlines, I'm asking myself some hard questions about how to streamline my process without sacrificing quality. How to trust to my story instincts and cut the mental noise (self-doubt!) until I come to my own core vision for the book.

To get to the story's heart, I've decided, I must first define the following:

1. What kind of reading experience do I want my audience to have with this story? Some books are thoughtful and complex, playing with the very structure of the novel and retraining the reader about narrative expectations. Other stories carry one along more simply, allowing the reader to join one of the endless permutations of the well-loved and ageless hero's journey. There's not a right or wrong about one way or the other, but they're far different writing tasks.

2. What emotional experiences do I want to be central? Is it campy horror (who doesn't love a good zombie romp?), heartrending pathos, an understated-but-no-less-moving romance, or a hair-raising suspense?

3. In just a few words, what central emotional challenge must the protagonist face? Is he an aging math professor learning that his inflexible theorems can't be applied to human relationships? Is she a free-spirited innocent who must learn that trust can come back to bite the one who gives of it too freely? Notice that we're talking here about internal conflicts. Sometimes these don't become clear until the draft is well underway or even complete.

4. Should this story leave the reader with questions (i.e. What is the right choice, really, in some particularly-knotty situation? Is our society correct, with its emphasis on X at the expense of y?) or answers and affirmations? (In a mystery, justice eventually prevails and the central story question had darned well better be answered. In a romance, character integrity wins the day, and after their long struggle toward love, the protagonists are rewarded with an enduring connection. Since both justice and interpersonal connection are highly valued by our culture, I consider this sort of a feel-good affirmation of the readers' core values.) Both types of stories can be fabulous, and you can even mix to a certain extent, but in the end, you need to know what you are writing.

5. For whom am I writing this story? There's a huge difference between writing a book meant for young adult fans of post-apocolyptic gorefests and middle-aged women in the book-club set, for example, and in my opinion you had better know your audience, along with their tastes, needs, and expectations, quite intimately if you're gunning to sell to them. All this, it should go without saying, requires tons of reading to sharpen your awareness of your market!)

Once you've figured out your core vision for the story and its characters, it becomes far easier to shape the emerging or completed draft, and it helps me a great deal with deciding which suggestions from beta-readers are helpful and which don't work with this particular. Put simply, emphasize whatever underscores the beating heart of this story, and lose whatever conflicts.

As helpful a guide as it may be, however, your core vision - or what you think of as central - can't be utterly inflexible. Sometimes, you'll find your focus incompatible with the market you're targeting. Your agent or your acquiring editor (the one agreeing to pay for this masterpiece!) will have other ideas that, once you've gotten over being horrified and really thought them over, resonate with you. Though there are times to stick to your guns, the wise writer will realize that negotiation is part of this business, and that in the end, the readers' needs must come before your own.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Buy This Book: "Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True" by Elizabeth Berg

The enhanced digital edition of my memoir, Bald in the Land of Big Hair, is coming out in a couple weeks with a foreword by the wonderful Elizabeth Berg. I'm trying to decide how to credit her in the PR copy: "bestselling author of..." Oh dear. Decisions, decisions. The obvious choice might be Talk Before Sleep, because it eloquently speaks to both the experience of having cancer and the experience of loving someone who has cancer. The obvious choice if I'm trying to suck up to Oprah, would be Berg's Oprah Book Club book, Open House, or I could go with the forever readable Durable Goods. Or there's the more recent (and gorgeous) novels, The Last Time I Saw You and Home Safe. I'll let you know when I make up my mind. Meanwhile, Escaping Into the Open: The Art of Writing True is Berg's gift to writers, which she describes as "everything I know and believe about the craft." And trust me, she knows plenty. Check it out.


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